Tuesday March 11, 2014
Concealed Handgun Licenses - In My OpinionGuest Opinion by Raul Ramirez Special to Salem-News.com
Oregon law does not permit Oregon's sheriffs any discretion to deny concealed weapons permits except in very limited circumstances.
(SALEM, Ore.) - The Oregonian is flat wrong in its op ed "Keep weapons permits public" in a number of respects. Of course, the newspaper is absolutely right when it guards the public's right to know what its elected officials and governments are doing.
Sunshine and transparency is central to American democracy, as is the oversight role of the press. This does not mean that every public record should be subject to review by all who request it. While requests by the press are often not objectionable (as recognized by our Open Meetings Law which grants media access to closed meetings but prohibits disclosure), there is no basis for a public body to differentiate and grant access to public records and documents to some (a responsible press) and deny access to others (criminals, mass mailers, gun groups and the like).
The Mail Tribune filed a law suit against Sheriff Winters who denied its request for all concealed weapons permits he had issued, including that of school teacher Shirley Ann Katz. Among other arguments, the Sheriff contended that ORS 192.502(2) relating to personal privacy exempts the record from disclosure. Under this law, public disclosure may be withheld if it would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy unless the public interest by clear and convincing evidence requires disclosure in the particular instance.
Oregon's sheriffs are taking steps to insure that personal information of concealed weapons permit holders remain private. In Guard Publishing Company v. Lane County School District the Court clearly established that individuals (public employees, school teachers and substitutes, gun permit holders, and the like) may individually request that personal information remain private.
Oregon's sheriffs have taken or are considering steps to afford gun permit holders this opportunity under current law. And, this is the right thing to do.
The courts of Michigan have recognized privacy related to identity of gun permit holders in Mager v. Dept. of State Police. Those with legitimate need for a gun permit will not want that need, their name and address, and the fact that they carry a weapon to become known publicly. Indeed, disclosure would defeat the purpose of the concealed weapon permit. The point of having the permit is to be able to be armed safely without public knowledge.
Privacy of this information makes sense! The information should be deemed private in the case of any permit holder. To do otherwise invites trouble, whether it be aggression directed at an armed permit holder or a burglary in search of firearms.
The Oregonian editorial is off base in other respects when the newspaper suggests that there should be public oversight of the permitting function in the interest of public safety, to be sure that only the right sorts of people are obtaining concealed gun permits.
There is little point. Oregon law does not permit Oregon's sheriffs any discretion to deny concealed weapons permits except in very limited circumstances. Stripping sheriffs of discretion to say "no" was a bad idea when the law was last amended and remains so today. However, the answer to The Oregonian's public safety concern is to change the law restricting Sheriffs' discretion – not to grant access to personal information where individual and community safety clearly and convincingly demonstrate that the personal information should remain private.
Raul Ramirez is the Chief Executive Officer for the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association. Until recently, he served many years as the Marion County Sheriff.
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